If you are in Washington, DC today and have already given up on your New Years resolution to go to the gym after work each day, swing by the W Hotel around 6:00 tonight for an event featuring Philip Taubman's new book, The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb. Taubman's book received a very positive review in the New York Times on Sunday.
I am no specialist in nuclear weapons or arms control, but can I still share Henry Kissenger's doubts about whether "Nuclear Zero" is actually a good idea in practice?
Kissinger’s doubts hang ominously over “The Partnership.” The technology cannot be uninvented; when one country goes to zero, its enemy is sorely tempted to cheat; and the scarier the government, the less amenable it is to disarming. Many of the governments and dignitaries calling for abolition are just mouthing the words.
My worries exactly. Anyway, please RSVP here if you plan on attending. I am sure CNAS director Bill Perry will have lots of smart responses to my above concerns.
The Economist once called it "enlightened mountain Republicanism." For whatever reason, Tennesseans have long looked to retired Sen. Howard Baker (McCallie '43), a moderate Republican who forged compromise across the aisles until retiring from the Senate to be Reagan's chief of staff after Iran Contra, as the model for how senators should behave. When Republican senators have lurched too far to the populist right, as Sen. Bill Frist did during the Terry Schiavo mess, their approval ratings have plummeted. The same explains why the once admired former Sen. Al Gore lost the state of Tennessee in 2000 after he was perceived to have lurched too far to the left in the 1990s. Regardless, Sen. Lamar Alexander reminded me yesterday why I supported him in his last campaign, and Sen. Bob Corker (Chattanooga City High School '70) locked up my support for his next election campaign. It would have been all too easy for my two Republican senators to have been petulant drama queens about the New START treaty, but instead here is what Sen. Alexander said yesterday:
And here is Sen. Corker:
It almost makes up for Basil Marceaux:
...like when one of our interns writes about Thorium and the nuclear fuel cycle. Another COINdinista, obviously.
Having thus bravely rallied the international community and summoned the United Nations -- a fiction and a farce, respectively -- what was Obama's further response?Now that probably makes people who get most of their news from the National Review Online chuckle, but it does very little for the rest of us. The Left, of course, has its own columnists of this sort -- paging Robert Fisk? -- who appeal only to those predisposed to agree with them in the first place.
Last weekend’s speech by President Barack Obama, embracing the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons, reflects a developing view around the world that the time is ripe to revive what has in the past been considered a utopian dream. We are now a long way from the massive arsenals of the cold war, and the Americans and Russians are about to embark on a new round of talks that could see arsenals reduced to at most 1,500 warheads each and possibly lower. Yet the move towards zero is by no means free of risk. The problem is less the ultimate goal, and whether it could be properly verified, but the transition period, which we have already entered. This new nuclear age involves issues and perils quite different from those of the cold war.
The old nuclear age was dominated by the arsenals of the US and Russia, with tens of thousands of warheads on both sides, and the drive to perfect their lethality while exploring forms of defence and relying on deterrence. Confidence that this relationship could be stable came from mutual assured destruction, with caution resulting from the prospect of terrible retribution even after a surprise first strike. The biggest fear was that numerous nuclear detonations would hurl vast quantities of soot and smoke into the stratosphere, creating a nuclear winter.
The new nuclear age involves more countries but smaller arsenals. The old strategic theories argued that such a situation was bound to be less stable than the cold war. Two superpowers locked in a long-term confrontation understood the logic of deterrence. Large arsenals encouraged caution as there could be no doubting the catastrophic consequences should they be fired. With small arsenals there might be a belief that a cleverly aimed strike could destroy the enemy's means of retaliation or that somehow the use of a few weapons, however terrible their effects, could be part of warfare as usual and contained in their impact. As a result of proliferation, there are now nuclear states marked by chronic insecurity, with tumultuous internal politics and fraught external relations.
So, according to Mr Obama, his greatest fear is that al-Qaeda will acquire a warhead and immediately use it against a population centre. Osama bin Laden has no interest in deterrence or other forms of deadly bargaining. There are other pressing nuclear issues. Might the struggling regime of North Korea be tempted to use its tiny arsenal? What does Iran have in mind as it strives to acquire enough highly enriched uranium to make a few nuclear weapons? What does Israel plan to do about that? Could a build-up of tensions between India and Pakistan result in nuclear exchanges? Is it possible that strife within Pakistan could result in its weapons falling into the wrong hands?
Even if the anticipated strategic arms reduction talks succeed, the US and Russian arsenals will still be much larger than the rest, but the differences will not be as great as before. The US is generally thought most able to cope with the end of the nuclear era because of its conventional strength, yet it still has allies in Nato and in Asia who depend on its security guarantees, and who might become nervous if it appears to be losing its edge over Russia and China. Meanwhile, Russia insists that with the expansion of Nato and the relative weakness of its conventional forces it has greater need of a nuclear deterrent. At the moment it has a much larger arsenal than China – but as the numbers go down might Russia become just an ordinary nuclear power with growing doubts about the credibility of its deterrent?
These are not arguments for the status quo. It should be a fundamental objective of policy to marginalise nuclear weapons. There was far too much complacency during the cold war about the possibility of unauthorised access to weapons or accidental use. It is hard to argue in favour of non-proliferation if the major powers show no interest in disarmament. Significant reductions in arsenals should not pose new security threats when coupled with other measures to reduce tensions and address conflicts.
But there has never been a natural relationship between fewer weapons and more peace, and if we aim to get the numbers down then we must give much more thought to the implications of moving from a world dominated by two large nuclear arsenals to one in which nuclear power is more widely distributed in smaller packets. It would be good to get to zero, but before that there could be some anxious moments.
Kerry Beal was taken aback when he discovered last March that many of his fellow security guards at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania were taking regular naps in what they called "the ready room."
When he spoke to supervisors at his company, Wackenhut Corp., they told Beal to be a team player. When he alerted the regional office of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, regulators let the matter drop after the plant's owner, Exelon, said it found no evidence of guards asleep on the job.
So Beal videotaped the sleeping guards. The tape, eventually given to WCBS, a CBS television affiliate in New York City, showed the armed workers snoozing against walls, slumped on tabletops or with eyes closed and heads bobbing.
The fallout of the broadcast is still being felt. Last month, Exelon, the country's largest provider of nuclear power, fired Wackenhut, which had guarded each of its 10 nuclear plants. The NRC is reviewing its own oversight procedures, having failed to heed Beal's warning. And Wackenhut says that the entire nuclear industry needs to rethink security if it hopes to meet the tougher standards the NRC has tried to impose since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
In my view, the Iran program halted in 2003 because of the massive and initially successful American use of military power in Iraq. The United States offered no “carrots” to Iran, but only wielded an enormous stick. This increased the Iranians’ desire to minimize the risks to themselves, and so they halted programs that could unambiguously be identified as a nuclear weapons program. They were guarding themselves against the exposure of a weapons program by US or Israeli clandestine intelligence collection, and were not trying to signal the United States that they were looking to negotiate. They did not publicly announce this halt because if they did so, they would be perceived as weak within Iran, and within the region. By continuing the enrichment program, they kept the weapon option open.Such a response is not surprising, nor is it necessarily all that fanciful. Charlie is not so willfully blind as to deny that a massive invasion of your next-door neighbor might be cause for some nuclear soul searching. But it does beg the following question: if that's what the Iranian leadership learned from the invasion, what have they learned from the occupation?